Michael Vick is going to get a second chance. Like almost all the 408 other NFL players who have been arrested on felony charges since 2000, the league is granting him the opportunity to return to stardom — despite committing crimes relating to gambling (Vick insists he never bet on the dog fights) that some believe should have disqualified him from ever lacing up a pair of spikes again. At one time, prosecutors were discussing the possibility of bringing charges under the organized crime statute known as RICO — a turn of events that would have meant the end of his career since he would have been sentenced to at least 25 years. In that way, Vick dodged a bullet, as he did when several similar state charges against him were plea bargained down to three years probation.
None of us are granted the insight to look into a man’s soul and discover if he truly is remorseful and willing to change his ways. All we can do is judge someone based on our ability to interpret a person’s attitude toward their transgression and how they carry themselves from that point on.
Michael Vick appears to have made many of the right moves. He has paid his debt to society and given more than a million dollars to fund the care and rehabilitation of some of the dogs he so barbarically used. He has even agreed to Commissioner Roger Goodell’s suggestion that former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy “mentor” the 29-year-old man to make sure he makes the right “decisions.”
But despite our longing to welcome back tarnished heroes with open arms, Vick’s crimes may be a bridge too far for the very image-conscious NFL. Despite Goodell’s conditional reinstatement of Vick, there has been very little interest shown by the 29 NFL teams in signing him, with many completely ruling out the possibility. It seems that there are indeed some things that are unforgivable — or, at least in the NFL, unmarketable.
Besides that, many NFL teams are frightened of signing Vick and enduring the almost certain negative reaction of many fans and the sporting press. Weighed in the balance against the fact that he has been two years out of football, is in questionable shape, and would be a difficult fit because of his style in many NFL offenses, it appears that very few teams are even discussing him.
But should it be this way? Most of the 408 NFL players who have been arrested on felony charges since 2000 didn’t experience this kind of resistance. Many were welcomed back to their teams with open arms.
This may be due to the fact that 32 percent of those felonies were DUIs, a crime to which the league gives a slap on the wrist. But what about the 17 percent of those felonies that were the result of violence against women? Or the 21 percent that were for fighting or disorderly conduct? Suspending these players for a couple of games hardly sends the message that the league is concerned about players obeying the law and not acting as if they are above it.
That’s why this current imbroglio over Vick smacks of hypocrisy. We rightly cringe when recalling Michael Vick’s crimes. But he has served his time, made his restitution, and appears at this juncture to be on the straight and narrow. Contrast that with the sometimes serial transgressions of a Pacman Jones, who always ends up getting another chance no matter what he does. As long as there is little or no consistency in the application of punishment in the NFL, the conga line of players charged with felonies will continue to bedevil the game.
Michael Vick has a world of talent and could probably help a good half-dozen teams, although not necessarily at quarterback. His speed and athleticism lends itself to kick returning, or perhaps the position of wide receiver.
But first some team will have to take a flyer and sign him to a contract. And at the moment, that appears not to be in the cards.